The band most associated with Generation X — in the cliche version of the term — is of course Nirvana. But I think Beck is much more representative of the Gen X experience. His career resonates beyond the music world, revealing interesting twists and turns as one very successful and talented person has bridged the analog and digital worlds.
In today’s Times, a feature about Beck touches on the main point I make in my book Slackonomics:
The paths taken and not taken have brought [Beck] to another valedictory point in his mercurial career. On Tuesday, his 38th birthday, Beck will release “Modern Guilt,” his eighth major-label studio album. … The completion of his contract with DGC Records, which has since been absorbed by Interscope Geffen A&M Records, could be a climactic event, occurring as the music industry continues to implode. Beck could now seek a new deal with a major label, an indie or a concert promoter, or he could go it alone, as contemporaries like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and Tori Amos have done [all Xers, it should be noted]. Or his label could decide not to sign him again.
The title of this piece is, “In A Chaotic Industry, Beck Abides,” which is essentially a neat little summary of the entire premise of my book. Creative Destruction (in the subtitle) is an economic phrase to describe the process by which old economic arrangements and cycles get upended by new ones as a result of innovation and technology. Generation X has essentially been the middle demographic of the middle class in this current era of Creative Destruction.
The result is an entire generation having to adapt in its formative years and beyond to two very contradictory forces: economic insecurity on the one hand, but great potential for entrepreneurial and creative fulfillment on the other. So even as Beck has gone from a “Loser” to musical valedictorian, he still doesn’t know where the music business is going to be in six months.
That is the story of Generation X. But we’ll always have two turntables and a microphone.